A death prolonged or hope renewed? The ‘Apartheid’ twist to Kiobel and the ATS.

Update 19 June 2017. SCOTUS held today in BMS and rejected jurisdiction.

Update 8 May 2017. Transcipt of pleadings issued in BMS and background here.

Update 12 January 2017 Bristol-Myers, if certiorari will be granted, will further define the limits to the Daimler case-law. Notice how Bristol-Myers, in their certiorari submission, emphasise predictability for the defendant: a sentiment often found in EU private international law. Update 19 January 2017. Certiorari granted.

Update 6 January 2017 a new case has just been launched in New York, against Germany, re its colonial past in Namibia, which one imagines will test both sovereign immunity and ATS.

(Update 3 September 2014: case dismissed end of August). Previous Update 25 July 2014: Docket still shows active case but no further development).

(Update on linked development: in April 2015, SCOTUS denied certiorari in Chiquita, in whuich the CA had applied Kiobel restrictively).

In Kiobel, the USSC /SCOTUS held on the basis of extraterritoriality: under what circumstances may US courts recognize a cause of action under the Alien Torts Statute, for violations of the law of nations, occurring within the territory of a sovereign other than the United States? In focusing on this question (and replying in the negative), the SC did not entertain the question which actually led to certiorari, namely whether the law of nations recognises corporate liability.

Soon after the same USSC held in Daimler that general jurisdiction other than in the State of incorporation applies only (in the case of foreign companies) when a foreign company’s “continuous corporate operations within a state [are] so substantial and of such a nature as to justify suit against it on causes of action arising from dealings entirely distinct from those activities.”

In the ‘Apartheid litigation’ [Lungisile Ntsebeza et al v Ford General motors and IBM], the Southern District of New York picked up the issue where SCOTUS had left it: can corporations be held liable under the Alien Tort Statute (“ATS”) for violations of “the law of nations”‘? Scheindlin USDJ held they can on 17 April last [Xander Meise Bay has a good overview of the successive litigation here]. She firstly held that it is federal common law that ought to decide whether this is so – not international law itself (ATS being a federal US Statute). Next she argued that the fact in particular (withheld by Jacobs J in Kiobel) that few corporations were ever held to account in a court of law for violations of public international law was not instrumental in finding against such liability.

Counsel have now been instructed to brief on the ‘touch and concern’ test put forward by the Supreme Court in Kiobel, with the warning that they must show in particular that the companies concerned acted ‘not only with the knowledge but with the purpose to aid and abet the South African regime’s tortious conduct as alleged in these complaints’.  A strict timetable for arguments has been laid down whence the wait for further development should not be too long. (Update 25 July 2014: Docket still shows active case but no further development; Update 3 September 2014: case dismissed end of August).

Geert.

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